The Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families has backed a call by Bermuda’s top police officer to tighten up the law to better protect schoolchildren from sexual predators — even if the youngsters are over the age of consent.
The IAC said in a statement that updated legislation to better protect vulnerable children was an “urgent necessity”.
The statement from the committee, an umbrella group for several organisations involved in social services, added: “Bermuda must prioritise the safeguarding of youth from all forms of abuse.”
The IAC spoke out after Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley said last week that the law should be amended to prevent teachers and others in positions of trust from having sex with 16 and 17-year-old children.
The law at present only protects children aged under 16 — unlike in Britain and other countries.
Debi Ray-Rivers, executive director of child abuse prevention charity Scars, said loopholes that put young people at risk of sexual abuse from those in a position of trust had to be closed to prevent teachers and other authority figures from grooming children and taking advantage of vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
Family Centre also backed a change in legislation to prevent any adult in a position of trust, such as a counsellor and a client, from having sex with older teenagers.
Martha Dismont, founder and executive director of Family Centre and a past president of the IAC, said that teachers and counsellors had an advantage as they were “quasi-authoritarian” figures and a change in the law would help block those who might use their position to exploit children in their care.
She added: “In addition, it removes the ambiguity and makes it unacceptable to hold more than one relationship with the person whose trust you have gained.
“It teaches discipline for the adult and helps to hold the line on boundaries.”
Mr Corbishley spoke out last week after The Royal Gazette highlighted the case of Christine DaCosta, now 38, who was groomed for sex by her teacher Robert DiGiacomo while she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl at Mount Saint Agnes Academy in Hamilton.
Police told her that because she was over 16, the age of consent for sex, no offence had been committed.
Ms DaCosta has now launched a campaign to make it a criminal offence for teachers and other people in positions of trust or authority to have sexual contact with youngsters under 18.